Celebrity and the Dying Art of Debate

I took part in a debate at the University of Westminster last night alongside that wily old fox Max Clifford (the second time I’ve shared a stage with him – it always makes for an interesting experience) and others, discussing Celebrity Brands: Desire, Dollars and Danger?

It was a rather curious and disappointing night; most of the questions from the floor were from people seeking insight via anecdote and I found myself missing the grillings I got from wannabe journalists 15 years ago about the nature of PR. The media has changed, without doubt – celebrity has come to be a sop they use to send us to sleep easily at night, a sort of weak-horlicks fairytale with all the calories and morals removed.

When it comes to celebrity, the media are too often an industry dependent on lives going wrong so they can print half truths and soap operas. The modern media can’t seem to find – or find the time for – the voices of those contributing something of worth to society. Everything is too prearranged. All those bright young things who wanted to be journalists now want to be in PR, as there’s always money to be made there.

But critical opinion is being lost. Does no one want to know how photos of John Terry and his wife in Dubai – which has strict privacy laws – were taken? It had to be by careful arrangement but no one questioned this last night. Everybody knows everything and nothing – the useful details are lost beneath a swath of cosy anecdote.

Debate is at an all time low – it is not even fashionable in politics, as Gordon Brown’s giving over of himself to the personal via the medium of his TV interview with Piers Morgan the other day proves. That and the fact that the political parties are all trying to bag celebs to help win the upcoming election (click here to see a piece on this in the Telegraph for which I gave a quote) rather than debate and think their way out of their problems.

I’m well aware that the world is constantly changing, as it should, but to have young wannabe publicists and journalists sidestep entirely a proper discourse and just accept the nature of things as they are on the surface is disturbing. There’s always money to be made – asking questions won’t, in the long run, stem the flow of that income. The power of questions is that, by questioning, one can change things. True constructive analysis and debate is the only way for the media, PR and the world to move forward – equilibrium need not mean stultification.

4 Responses to “Celebrity and the Dying Art of Debate”

  • I agree with you, the debate was a joke and Max Clifford made his own little publicity event out of it. Unfortunatly he dominated the panel and no one really could be bothered to argue with him. I understand that you were disappointed by the floor`s questions, however, I think a lot of us were just frustrated at this point. Max Clifford killed of almost every question with the “anecdotes” you described, no decent discussion can evoke from that. Being one of those “bright young things who want to be in PR”, I can assure you that we are well aware of the topic and we are all in possession of a critical opinion. We were all disappointed by the way the debate went because our expectations had been high.
    What the organisers can learn from this in terms of future debates is to stop inviting dominant personalities like Max Clifford who only use plattforms like this to brag about themselves and also to narrow the number of attendants further down so that a real discussion can emerge.

    In my opinion, the celebrity phenomenon has reached its peak. Celebrities already start to devaluate, precisely because of the high coverage they get, they are ubiquitous. People will get used to having them around until the point where they won`t be special anymore (because most celebs today are just famous for being famous) and the public will lose its interest in them. New communication tools like Twitter or the countless celebrity blogs only accelerate this process.
    Maybe the media – which is already facing decreasing circualtion – will then once more value those who actually “contribute something of worth to society”.

  • marianne:

    i’m afraid I have no sympathy for the two of you…………those who are prepared to share a stage with this low-life max clifford don’t deserve to be heard. after all, WHO IS THE GUY ??????? A CRIMINAL WHO HAS THE CHEEK TO BOAST ABOUT HIS PROTECTING CRIMINALS AND ABUSING PEOPLE’S MISFORTUNE……FROM WHICH THIS CORRUPT SOCIETY OF OURS IS ENABLING HIM TO MAKE A LOT OF MONEY.

    MY ADVICE: REFUSE TO SIT ON ANY PANEL/DEBATE WHERE ABNOXIOUS CLIFFORD IS INVITED TO, AND YOU’LL SEE, HE WILL VERY QUICKLY SUBMERGE INTO THE MUD/FILTH WHERE HE BELONGS……….

    DON’T JUST MOAN……….DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT…………..

  • You need to visit http://www.arrse.co.uk (the Army Rumour Service) there are lot of angry, debating folk over there. Election fever is upon us – let’s get the debate started. Maybe it’ll bring out some leadership from the political parties – we need a leader to aid recovery and quite frankly we are heading for a hung parliament if the parties don’t raise their game and stop sitting on the fence!!

    Let the debate commence.

  • @marlena – thanks for the response. It would have been helpful to see and hear the critical opinion from the floor – you and your fellow students are better placed to give people already in the industry a run for our money. Frustration is all very well, but a dominant personality shouldn’t stop one from venting it constructively and passionately. As the next generation of the industry, you have everything to gain from tearing us down – if you can.

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